She speaks no English, misses her grandmother and never wanted to come here in the first place. But those became minor considerations after she was kidnapped, drugged, starved, raped by “eight or nine” MS-13 gang members and burned with their cigarettes over the 10 days before another young woman who was being held by the group escaped and brought the police back with her.
Her records from a medical assessment done at the Texas border after she was arrested and detained there, in May of 2013, report genital lesions consistent with sexual abuse, and her medical records in Indiana show a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. She and her 14-year-old brother — who came a year later after the gang in their home town of Choluteca began threatening him, too — both spoke on condition that their names not be used, as did their mother, who has been living and working in a factory here without any documentation for nine years now.
Their situation is all too typical, say advocates and lawyers for the recent flood of arrivals from Central America. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a total of 66,127 unaccompanied minors arrived in the United States from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — up from 38,757 the year before, according to government figures.
“I’m nervous,’’ about the asylum hearing they’ll finally get on Monday, volunteered the boy, and his sister nodded her agreement.
As minors, their petitions will be decided in separate, closed-door, two-or-three-hour sessions before a judge in Chicago. Their pro-bono attorney, Jacqueline M. Pimentel-Gannon, will argue that as a victim of gang-related sexual violence, she — and the brother the gang seems to have blamed for her disappearance — wouldn’t be safe if they were sent back to Honduras. “Gangs can see fleeing itself as an act of defiance,’’ she said.
In answer to the argument that those who flee here should do so legally, Pimentel-Gannon suggested that not only is that practically impossible but that once here, the lives of the undocumented can actually be complicated by the hit-and-miss application of our laws.
In theory, for instance, all of this should be a moot point since their 35-year-old mother, would seem to be eligible for the U visas available to undocumented immigrants who are victims of a violent crime and cooperate with police, as she did when she testified against her former husband in court in 2010.
According to a court report, a judge granted her a protective order against her ex, and a police report details her cooperation with their investigation. Yet Curtis Hill Jr., the Elkhart County prosecutor, has repeatedly denied her such a visa — which would have extended to her children and made it unnecessary for them to wait for an asylum hearing.
Heather Norman, a spokesman for Hill’s office, at first said the case was so old that “the paperwork has likely been destroyed.” When told that the application was last submitted only two months ago, in August, she said there was still no record of it. Each case is decided on its own merits, Norman said, though five different attorneys who work with immigrants in Elkhart County said the county virtually never does grant such visas.
After being turned down four times out of four, said Fort Wayne attorney Luz P. Ostrognai, “I have not made any more requests because I know that no matter how horrible the client’s situation is, the Elkhart County prosecutor will not sign it.”
Norman said the county keeps no statistics on the number of U visas granted. While waiting for the hearing that will finally decide whether the 14- and 18-year-old can stay here with their mother or must return home, the boy is in school, in ninth grade, and every day after class heads straight to the park to play soccer. His sister, though, says she has no routine at all, really. For almost a year, she was so traumatized she barely spoke, “but I’m better now,” she said. “I’m finished with therapy.”
She spends her days “at home,” not doing much, she says. Asked if she’s made friends here, she shrugs and says “mas o menos.” More or less.
When gang violence in Honduras got so bad, her mother can’t say: “It’s always been horrible. They leave heads or hands or a leg — yes, body parts — on a school bus, or cut someone’s tongue out.’’
Then again, she’s been afraid here, too — of her former husband, who raped her before and after their marriage in Honduras, she said, but has stayed away from her in the four years since she got a protective order.
“I could tell that she was really scared,” wrote the officer who investigated after her husband called the police in July of 2010, saying that she had attacked him — and that he wanted the cops to make her come back home from a women’s shelter.
And she still seems that way when she says that “only God knows” what the judge will decide on Monday.